Strange Bedfellowship

by Scott McLemee on October 19, 2007

Suppose there were an Iranian cult combining Islamism and Stalinism, with a history of terrorist attacks, that had enjoyed friendly relations with Saddam’s regime, back when.

Why, that’s something that the American right would fund a special TV network just to denounce 24-7, isn’t it?

Not so fast. Daniel Pipes and Max Boot think the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is just sadly misunderstood. Get the backstory at the Campaign for America’s Future.

Bad accents

by Henry on October 19, 2007

Myself and the wife have been watching the second series of _Heroes_, which is finally beginning to pick up after a slow start (although the spunky cheerleader needs to lose the drippy boyfriend _immediately_ ). One of the subplots plays out, strangely enough, among the Cork criminal underclass, or at least the show producer’s idea of same. The accents of these purported Corkonian ne’er-do-wells are nothing short of atrocious. Perhaps it’s understandable that there’s nothing at all resembling an actual Cork accent to be found among them; that might be a bit much to inflict on unsuspecting American television viewers. But there’s not much in the way of _Irish_ accents, full stop. One fella who thinks that Irish people speak like Scotsmen with adenoids, another with standard mid-Atlantic intonations, and a British actress who at least seems to have heard Irish people talking once upon a time, even if her ability to imitate them slips in and out of focus. The nadir was reached when one of the actors pronounced “Slainte” as “slah-in-che” on this week’s show (all they needed to do to get this one right was to do a bloody “Google search”:http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&hs=k6w&q=slainte+pronounce&btnG=Search). This is all quite unnecessary – I can testify from a considerable personal acquaintance that unemployed Real Irish Actors with Real Irish Accents are not a commodity in short supply.

That said, the problem goes both ways. We also recently saw the first episode of _Spooks_ (MI5 on this side of the Atlantic), a BBC production, which has an abortion clinic bomber whose purported Southern US accent had to be heard to be believed. My wife didn’t even realize that it was meant to be an American accent until I told her (a later episode’s subplot concerning the vast amounts of WTO cash subsidizing the Russian economy did little to add to my estimate of the show’s commitment to verisimilitude). So anyway, I thought that there might be some entertainment value in a thread on Bad TV/movie Accents that you have heard (and good ones too, if you like; the best Hollywood Irish accent by far that I’ve heard was Brad Pitt in _Snatch_ – it approached a kind of incomprehensible Platonic ideal of dense Midlands guttural).

How the Edwardians Spoke

by Kieran Healy on October 19, 2007

A (slightly ponderous) documentary on a set of rare sound recordings of British and Irish POWs from World War I. First recordings are just after 10 minutes in. I liked the way the speed of the shellac recording is calibrated by matching an A note on the last groove to the A from a tuning fork. At 23″ or so there’s a recording of a man telling the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the difference between the ‘a’ in _father_ and the ‘a’ in _man_ is quite striking. At about 35″ there’s an nice example of the problems associated with interpreting material like this: another recording of the Prodigal Son story (a set text for the German academics who were interested in English accents) is played to a woman who knew the solider speaking, with interesting results.

Eternal Recurrence

by Henry on October 19, 2007

The debate about IQ and race is rearing its ugly head again with James Watson’s “charming interview statements”:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/10/17/nwatson117.xml about IQ and how while

there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal …”people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”‘

Thus, this “monster post”:http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/523.html by Cosma Shalizi (a sequel to his earlier piece on heritability), discussing why _g_, the purported general factor of intelligence, is a statistical myth, is well timed, even if (as Cosma “notes elsewhere”:http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/524.html it’s not much more then yet another bloody iteration of the lessons that statisticians have been hammering home again and again for decades, but which don’t seem to have penetrated the public debate.

In primitive societies, or so Malinowski taught, myths serve as the legitimating charters of practices and institutions. Just so here: the myth of _g_ legitimates a vast enterprise of intelligence testing and theorizing. There should be no dispute that, when we lack specialized and valid instruments, general IQ tests can be better than nothing. Claims that they are anything more than such stop-gaps — that they are triumphs of psychological science, illuminating the workings of the mind; keys to the fates of individuals and peoples; sources of harsh truths which only a courageous few have the strength to bear; etc., etc., — such claims are at present entirely unjustified, though not, perhaps, unmotivated. They are supported only by the myth, and acceptance of the myth itself rests on what I can only call an astonishing methodological backwardness.

The bottom line is: The sooner we stop paying attention to _g,_ the sooner we can devote our energies to understanding the mind.

Health warning – a little statistics required to follow the argument, albeit no more then you’re likely to have gotten in your first grad school class on multiple regresssion in the social sciences (about which last Cosma also has some unkind words to impart in passing).